Reminiscing with the elderly is a wonderful way to validate the lives of individuals and provide seniors with a sense of purpose, especially those living with dementia.  Reminiscing activities  also encourage social interaction and promote interpersonal skills.
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Reminiscing is an important activity for everyone. We all cherish our happy memories and enjoy talking about them.

Reminiscing is a familiar activity; we all reminisce at one time or another - even a young child will sometimes say: 'when I was a baby'. Sometimes busy people like to remember when they had few responsibilities; others love to talk about 'the good old days'.

Reminiscing refers to the casting of one's mind back to times gone by; to being nostalgic about happy experiences in our lifetime.

Reminiscing is a wonderful way for elderly people to feel a sense of purpose, especially those living with dementia. Experts in the field of aging say that as we age, reminiscing takes on a greater significance. There are many advantages to reminiscing with the elderly in residential care facilities.

Benefits of reminiscing:

  • Promote sociability
  • Improve staff's 'person-centred' awareness
  • Impart wisdom through sharing experiences
  • Promote self-understanding
  • Validation of personal life stories
  • Build coping mechanisms
  • Meaningful and enjoyable interaction
  • Promote communication and creativity
  • Opportunity to form new friendships
  • Therapeutic for people suffering from depression
  • Helpful in times of crisis and mourning

Reminiscing can be Casual or Formal

Formal: Videos, movies, slides, diaries, journals, Life Review (structured reminiscing) and pictures.

Casual: Questions & Answers, Themes, storytelling, feeling textures, touching objects.

Reminiscing sessions can be conducted one on one, in groups or with family.

Related: How to Conduct a Reminiscing Session

One on one session:

A casual visit to a resident is an opportunity to reminisce about a theme of his choice or from a conversation you start. If you are doing a room visit, look around at pictures or objects inside the room to start the conversation. Allow the residents to talk at his pleasure and listen attentively; let them take you where they want to go. Residents may say things to you they don't tell their families. One on one reminiscing promotes communication and strengthens rapport with staff.

Group Session:

One of the best ways to promote social contact in a residential setting is by matching people with similar interests into small groups; 3 to 4 people and holding regular sessions to develop trust and rapport.

The focus of reminiscing can be an event, an era, past lives, themes such as 'spring' or 'Pets' or 'Favourite Toys'.

Family session:

Photos and videos are excellent sources for reminiscing as are cherished objects and handmade items from the past. Feeling textures such as embroidery and patch work can also be very stimulating.

How to develop a successful reminiscing group:

  • A room or a verandah where participants are not distracted by noise.
  • A table with a group of participants; preferably composed of males and females.
  • A theme or a list with prompting questions to start the conversation.
  • Ask questions directed to all participants and allow ample time for participants to answer.
  • Don't interrupt them; it may be that someone else will add a comment or volunteer a different point of view.
  • Be sensitive; don't put participants in a position where they may reveal things they don't want to.
  • Be supportive of those who repeat themselves; guide them gently to focus on something else by asking another question.

Tips for group reminiscing:

  • Reminiscing sessions should last 45 to 60 minutes (more if they are having fun, less if they lose focus).
  • Weekly group meetings with the same participants is one option.
  • 'Lend your ears'; listening to someone talk about what is important to them is very beneficial to their self-esteem.
  • Use humour whenever you can.
  • Bring props and other paraphernalia if the session calls for it. For example: Weddings - veil, wedding gown, bride magazines. Cooking - old utensils, rolling pin, potato peeler, strainer.

Themes for Reminiscing:

School Days Reminiscing
Best Recipes
I Remember my Father
Fishing Trips (for men)
Sewing Kits (for ladies)
The Depression Era
Best Holidays
Summer Reminiscing
Spring Reminiscing
Beach Reminiscing
The Early Days of TV
Favourite Toys
Winter Reminiscing
The best birthday you ever had
Dancing days
Your first rock concert (for baby-boomers)

Related: 13 More Themes for Reminiscing

Life Review

Reminiscing should focus on pleasant memories but sometimes the person may recall unhappy memories which can upset them.

A 'Life Review' is a structured review of one's life from the earliest memories to the most recent memories.

Life Review is a process by which you can help people overcome issues from the past. The concept was developed by Dr. Barbara Haight, director of a Gerontological nursing program at the Medical University of South Carolina, US.

According to studies conducted by Dr. Haight, most subjects are significantly more satisfied with life after a Life Review session. This was true for both people living at home and those in residential care facilities.

The Life Review process helps people to deal with traumatic events from the past.

Activity staff are perfectly capable of conducting Life Review sessions with some trainiong. If you are interested, approach your manager and enquire about the possibility of education and training in this area.

Related: My Story - Short Biography Template

What reminiscing themes have worked well with your clients?
We would love to hear your feedback.

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Nikki 18th Oct 2022 Day Centre Coordinator
A children's birthday party theme worked really well in New Zealand where it's been traditional to hold these parties at home with mostly home cooked food. We have a couple of famous recipe books so I started with those and added cake decorating utensils, candles, serviettes, straws, an invitation, photos of children at a party, gift wrap paper, ribbons and anything else to do with a party. I laid it all out on a table covered in paper which the participants could write their favourite party food on. We talked about the games played, the advent of the goody bag, costume parties and even those held at a fast food place. We brought the men into it by asking about their role - blowing up the balloons, putting up shelter etc. An hour passed very quickly!
Talita 24th Oct 2022
What a wonderful idea, thank you for sharing Nikki!
Kymberly 24th Aug 2019 Activities Coordinator
This is exactly my session structure. I'd been doing it for 10 years, and have heaps of topics that inspire endless conversation, sometimes good memories, sometimes not, but i dont think that matters. Pictures are great! From holding up a pic of a kitchen utensil to a hardware tool. And the best session is when you dont have to say anything at all except to make sure everyone gets their turn to voice their input
Tony 16th Aug 2019
I have been working 1 on 1 with residents living with dementia for over 5 years. I find many aged care staff are ignorant to the sensitive nature of 1 on 1 sessions. They are caught up ticking boxes for tasks and will think nothing of interrupting a session without so much as an "excuse me". The reason? Time for coffee and cake, Bingo or a bus trip. It's just plain rude and insensitive. The old adage of "leave a tender moment alone" surely applies. These staff are a rule unto themselves defending their task driven behaviour and filing complaints if I dare to continue a session. The resident feels compromised and torn by their behaviour. As one resident said: "you don't have to live here. There are repercussions for not doing as I'm told"
andrea 10th Sep 2018
hi all.
I'm working with elderly in nursing home, mixed deficits ie some dementia, stroke etc...
sometimes its hard to engage with the residents when a lot sleep during activities any tips would be greatly appricated..
Ann 12th Dec 2017 Lifestyle & Well-being Assistant
Food or a drink from each place
Roslyn 8th Dec 2017 Pastoral Carer
Hi I am planning a reminiscence session on the theme Holidays you have been on. I have a big map of the world that I can going to stick colourful markers on to indicate where people have been to. Also I will play appropriate holiday songs. Any other suggestions on what I could include would be appreciated.
Talita 10th Dec 2017
This sounds like a wonderful idea Roslyn! Love to hear how it goes.
Shirley 24th Oct 2017 Memory Care Coordinator
Hello, I am a memory Care Coordinator in a small facility we average about 20 Residents. I have a great job. It is a pleasure to work with families and be with our residents daily. I also have a wonderful staff to work with.
We have a reminiscing activity that is ongoing. We call it "My Story".
Each family is given a page of questions to answer such as Where did I grow up? Where did I attend grade school? what school did I graduate from? Do I have brothers and sisters and list their names? We just ask general questions. From the questions we write a story about our resident. We ask the family to bring us pictures young and old we make copies of the pictures and return the original. We also have family members to write stories to go with the pictures or at least write the names of who is in the pictures. We also take lots of pictures of each of our residents. I purchase regular binders, plastic sleeve protectors, card stock and embellishments and we put the "My Story" book together. It is an on going weekly project. Example our facility recently had to evacuate for a major hurricane. I took pictures of our evacuation bus and had news paper clipplings about the hurricane and wrote a little story of how we had to evacuate and where we went and how long we were gone and also took pictures while we were at our evacuation sight. All this went into our story books because it was a historical event. We will continue to add to the books weekly. Our families enjoy looking at each book with their loved one and talking about the past and the present.
Thanks Much
Gail 29th Jul 2016 Personal In Home Carer
I am an in -home carer. I took a portable record player and an old vinyl record of war year songs to play for my client. She closed her eyes and had a smile on her face for the whole record. It touched my heart. She seemed to really enjoy it. Next week Im taking an old song book to her for us to reminisce because she likes music.
Christine 9th May 2016 Lifestyle Assistant
Hi I am new to Activities with the Aged, and I am loving it! I recently joined Golden Carers and have already found it useful! We recently did a reminiscing session about Games we played as kids. It was very engaging and the stories were hilarious!!
Talita 10th May 2016
Hi Christine,

Thanks so much for the feedback, it is very much appreciated.
All the best with your new role!
Kymberly 4th May 2016 Activities Coordinator
My topic this week went along the theme of ancestors - where they came from, any interesting stories, family tree & history, were u named after someone, if u found a suspicious story would you share, what they used to do if there was anything suspicious. They loved it
Kymberly 6th Apr 2016 Activities Coordinator
A recent topic i did was 'punishment'. Did you ever go to bed without dinner? Did u hve ur children go to bed without dinner? Stories? (The men enjoyed telling what they got up to) What was the punishment at school? What do you think about the attitude to punishment now, both at home & school? Do you think parents should be allowed to use physical punishment? They really enjoyed it. Another was what the 'typical backyard was like'? We were talking about the 'typical Queenslander', verandas that became bedrooms for crowded houses, the stumps, tin roof, should we protect their heritage, hills hoist, outhouse, cricket stumps, climbing trees. I have quite a few English residents and something they had were bomb shelters :)
Lisa 31st Mar 2016 Activity Coordinator
Our local public library has 3 suitcases full of reminiscence items that aged care facilities can borrow free of charge. They were put together by someone working at the local museum. The themes are domestic, workplace and miscellaneous, things like butter pats, school slate, darning mushroom. A collection like this could be put together and shared around several rest homes in one area.
Talita 31st Mar 2016
What a wonderful resource Lisa, this is a great idea!
Michelle 13th Jan 2017 Social Opportunities Director
I love this idea!
Myle 13th Mar 2016
Me agradan mucho sus artículos. Ansiosa por poner en práctica las actividades para mis padres.
Solange 14th Mar 2016 Diversional Therapist
Hi Myle, muchas gracias e bienvenida a Golden Carers!
Kerry 31st Aug 2014 Recreation
Our facility had a recent visit from a community craft group. For a change we had a kitchen reminiscing morning tea. Lovely sponges for morning tea and utensils from the kitchen. Had a lovely array of vintage items from the kitchen that prompted lots of conversation. Residents also continued talking about this activity the next day. Enjoyed by all.
Julianne 30th Aug 2014 Activities Officer
Wedding theme - I did one at work and it was fabulous, residents and family members were overwhelmed with the amount of effort that was put into it. Had all wedding photos in frames (can you pick you this is) this made great conversation was fun as it involved everyone residents,staff,family members,doctors ext

Wedding lunch with wedding cake , music , residents came dressed in their best outfits. We had a bride and groom and old brides maids dresses. Posy of Fresh flowers on each table, room totally decorated residents family where invited to attend,all leaving saying what and outstanding day it was. It was hard work but I enjoyed doing this for my residents as there was plenty of conversation going on there rooms about how they meant their husband and so lots of fun.
Bertylla 28th Aug 2014 Recreation Therapist
Hi I am Bertylla ! Reminiscing Activities very important for age care facility .this all information are very help full for the activities.Thank You .
Adrienne 26th Aug 2014
I have done Wedding reminiscing twice in the last 5+ years and included our staff who have brought in Wedding items.
It is fantastic to compare costumes, photos, invitations etc from the different eras.
We have had residents who still have their wedding dresses and another man who had recently lost his wife and he was able to bring along her Wedding dress and photo (with his Daughter's help).
This is so much fun and well worth the time and effort involved.
I also love this website and look forward reading every email you send. Keep up the good work!
Sally 19th Jun 2014 Activities Coordinator
I did a reminiscing afternoon about a month ago instead of a quiztime. It was really popular. Going to run another one tomorrow. Wedding theme. I work with low care residents and have asked them to all bring their wedding photographs and any other wedding items they still have. I'm bringing my wedding dress. I have questions in a box for each to take turns with.
Jacqueline 8th Jun 2014 Activities Assistant
Hi my name is Jackie I work in a Nursing Home mainly with residents that have dementia, I've joined Golden Carers for past 3 years. Your web site is the greatest!
I've used so many ideas and they have all worked brilliantly. Your my little secret in achieving my goals with the residents. Thank you again. Regards Jackie
Solange 23rd May 2014 Diversional Therapist
Hi Wendy,

Thank you for your feedback. I am sorry about your mum's illness. Your mum's generation did not have a lot of support to deal with traumas; they coped the best way they could.
You are quite right "Life Review' most likely will help your mum. Processing traumatic feelings and grief may help memories become part of normal recollections rather than something that is forever hurting. Best wishes

Wendy 22nd May 2014 Student/Carer
I am currently studying Leisure and Health Cert IV at Tafe and volunteering in an Aged Care facility. Also my Mum has Alzheimers and I have noticed nearly all of our conversations for the last couple of years have been based around her reminiscing. She is bringing up some painful memories, such as when her mother died, losing her first child at 6 weeks old and my Dad going off to the Vietnamn war. I think when she experienced all of those things people never talked about their pain or suffering and often did it in silence and alone which has left some unhealed wounds. The idea of a life review really resonates with me and I can see how it would help Mum and others. I am keen to learn more about this process and the training available.
This is a great job! I Love it!
massive drop in salary from my last job in Education but being paid for caring, talking, sharing old folks stories, crafting,entertaining and being valued is priceless.
I have communication with another coordinator in Australia via GoLden carers and find this site so helpful.
Finding a job you love and being paid for doing it! Amazing
Rosalinda 20th May 2014 Social worker
I'm a social worker looking for work. Though my background in child protection I believe information and activities from Golden Carers are valuable tools to my profession. Subscription to Golden Carers is value for money - good investment in my job search.
Darla 20th May 2014 Recreation and Rehab Manager
A good suggestion for small group discussions.
I like some of the ideas and would like to try tips for group reminscing
A helpful and useful site
Solange 17th Nov 2011 Diversional Therapist
Welcome to the industry Debra and may you stay for a long time.
Debra 16th Nov 2011 Diversional Therapist
Hi there, I have never worked with aged care residents & I am loving it, best job ever your site is very helpful i'm really glad i joined
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